Conference news

Published on July 9th, 2013 | by Stephanie

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Talking the Mathematical Edge and MPE with Dr Bronwyn Harch, CSIRO

When did you discover that you had a passion and a knack for the mathematical sciences?

I’ve always found maths helped me make sense of the changes I see around me – like how changes in rainfall and temperature have an impact on my Dad’s crops in southern Queensland where I grew up. I did advanced maths in high school because I enjoyed it and was good at it. In the 1980s, environmental science was popular. I had just completed a degree in environmental science and teaching, and also enjoyed mathematics and realised I needed an edge that would help my career. I wondered if there was a career where I could combine the two. I realised the edge I was looking for was the interface between maths and the environment.

It was the start of a fascinating career bringing the rigour of mathematics to ‘softer’ disciplines.

Now I’m Chief of CSIRO Computational Informatics, I’ll be shaping the way the mathematical sciences is integrated with digital technologies to give us broad reach and significant impact in our research.

Would you please translate data ranging and the information value chain for someone who had never heard the terms?

When people make decisions, they make them based on data. There’s a workflow, a series of steps they take, as they work out how to make their decision. They work out how to capture the data, transmit it, model it, gain insights and understanding from it, then make a decision. Often the decision is made in an uncertain environment, not all the facts are known but you have to deal with that, ideally in a quantitative way. The selected option is then implemented and the outputs and outcomes are monitored and evaluated. These are  then fed back into the decision making process as new data and informs better decisions later on.

So in short, digital technologies have triggered an explosion of volume, velocity and variety of data and information. That data and information has to be generated, captured, transmitted and analysed by organisations like governments, companies and research institutions. That’s where we come in at CSIRO Computational Informatics.

What is a popular application of maths — a little less known then a mobile phone or computer — that the public use most days?

I love to wax lyrical about how maths is something we use every day in our kitchen, bathrooms, cars, and jobs. For me, maths has made me a better investor. You only have to read the ‘Money’ newspaper pages for mum and dad investors, DIY super fund managers, business owners to see that maths is pretty fundamental to how we live our lives. These papers are full of numbers and interest rates and trends over time. If you don’t do the maths right, you end up with huge credit card bills, a failed business or a house you can’t pay off.

What are you most looking forward to at the conference?

For me, the conference is a chance to connect with others passionate about maths. It’s also a chance to talk about our new division in CSIRO, Computational Informatics. On 1 July we brought together research divisions in digital technologies and mathematical sciences to create a new CSIRO capability hub which I’m heading up. It’s part of the expanding and evolution of those disciplines. We’re 440 people strong, Australia-wide and we’re looking forward to collaborating even more than we do already with universities, research institutes, industry and government. I’m looking forward to talking to conference delegates on how we can work with them and create impact for Australia.[subscribe2]

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